Just when I thought 2020 was the weirdest travel year I’d ever see, 2021 did everything it could to rival it. Our family took a sharp left-hand turn during the pandemic and bought an RV. We spent a fair amount of 2020 camping, a completely different way to travel. That bled into 2021, though as the year turned to spring and summer I got back on the road for work again.
2021 had moments of “normal” but they were mostly defined as the “new normal“. Airline schedules were geared towards leisure travel, hotels removed services left and right and travel was generally pretty miserable. 2022 has started out to be equally horrible. Every single trip I’ve taken so far has had some sort of flight delay. COVID continues to be a dumpster fire, and that’s why it’s the last day of January as I’m trying to finalize a recap of my travel year. As I sit at 35,000 feet over Colorado Springs (hi, Randy!) on my way home from Las Vegas, I’m finally squeezing in a few minutes to catch up with everyone and look back on 2021. I’m buckled up, here’s a look at the numbers.
Airline Status in 2021
The past handful of years have been a heavy diet of United Airlines. Not the most appetizing “meal”, but it’s been the most logical one for me due to nonstop flights. However, the pandemic caused the airlines to gear 2021 much more towards leisure travel. That meant I could actually get to Vegas for work earlier in the day on a Delta connecting flight than on a United nonstop (earliest nonstop left at 11am). That lead to some weird numbers.
United Airlines 1K Status
There were a number of opportunities in 2021 to earn bonus Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs), which is United’s new-ish currency for keeping track of elite status. While I flew less miles on United than any year in the past decade, I earned more PQPs. A lot more.
I’d still consider United my primary carrier. I didn’t get back in the air until May of last year and still managed 32 flights on United. My flights and PQPs were more than enough to qualify me for top-tier 1K status again for 2022. I expect that United will still play a big role in my flying but they have yet to adjust the schedule for a few routes I fly. This means that I’m still able to rely on Delta to get me somewhere quicker than United. Heck, I’m writing this on a Delta flight to Detroit because the flight times just worked out better than United.
While I haven’t hit 1 million miles on United yet (for lifetime Gold status) it’s within shouting distance over the next few years. 2 million paid miles flown on United (for lifetime Platinum) seems out of reach so I don’t have an issue with cheating on United once in a while. It’s early in 2022 but United hasn’t shown much in the way of lowering the qualification requirements for this year.
I still feel pretty comfortable hitting the PQP goals for 1k by the end of the year, but I actually think it’s more likely I do so by hitting 15,000 PQPs. If I’m using Delta for connecting flights (and potentially a bit of American flying, more on that later) I’m not sure I’ll have 36 flights on United in 2021. It’s still too early to tell.
Delta Diamond Medallion Status
I definitely didn’t enter 2021 thinking Diamond status was on my radar. Delta’s top-tier status usually requires 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). I’ve never sniffed anywhere close to that on Delta and I was perfectly happy with the Platinum status I received by virtue of the American Express Centurion Business card I held through my company. Alas, American Express chose not to waive annual fees during the pandemic on the Centurion card, nor offer much in the way of incentive to carry it. We made the decision to cancel the card, which ended my Platinum status. But, then something interesting happened.
Delta and American Express came out with some great status boost offers last year that intrigued me. I ended up grabbing a Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business card for the bonus MQMs. It was partially for Diamond status but also got me thinking about lifetime status on Delta. I’m kind of obsessed with lifetime status. I already have lifetime status with the following programs:
- American Airlines (lifetime Gold, 3 million miles)
- Hyatt (lifetime Globalist)
- Marriott (lifetime Titanium Elite)
- Hilton (lifetime Diamond)
Well, I piled on the credit card to max out the MQMs both for Diamond status and for a potential run at some Delta lifetime status. And, along the way I squeezed in a few flights while putting my status to use.
It’s hard to tell how real the numbers are. I absolutely had $250K in credit card spend, but Delta had plenty of bonus MQM and MQD opportunities. So, no real idea how many I earned from flying. Suffice it to say that I took plenty of Delta flights last year. I’m hoping to put together a comparison of the two airlines, and may even add on the other two airlines I’m planning on earning top-tier status with this year. I may not keep Diamond status past this year because of the credit card spending required. Platinum is just fine and requires only $25K in credit card spending versus $250K.
Air Canada Aeroplan Super Elite Status
Air Canada ran a great status promotion last year to go along with the exciting new program they launched and valuable new credit card for US-based customers. I was able to turn my Delta Diamond status into Air Canada 75K status. From there, one round-trip to Toronto scored me Super Elite status for 2022. I’m hoping to do some fun things with it, but we’re not quite there yet. Hold tight for that story!
As I mentioned earlier, 2021 was the year of underachievement for hotels. Housekeeping was in short supply, as was free breakfast. Rates were high, services were low. Airport shuttles were another thing to hit the chopping block, along with room service and pretty much anything else that made hotel stays enjoyable. Still, I did manage some hotel stays.
Diamond Globalist Status
I’ve had lifetime Hyatt Globalist status for quite some time now for good reason. They continue to treat me better than any other hotel chain. Because of that treatment I also tend to book most of my paid nights at a Hyatt.
With some help from credit card spending I ended up with 78 elite nights. The folks at Hyatt were really smart with how they designed lifetime status. Globalist members normally earn a total of four Globalist suite upgrades and a certificate valid for a one free night at a Category 1-7 Hyatt property when they stay 60 nights each year. Lifetime Globalist members get those benefits automatically each year. However, the kicker is that if a Lifetime Globalist stays 60 nights each year, they’re awarded double the number of suite upgrades and free night certificates. Unlike other hotel chains that offer lifetime status, Hyatt make it worth your while to continue patronizing the brand.
Marriott Titanium Elite Status
I hold lifetime Titanium Elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy program which is the highest status level you can achieve without spending $20,000 at Marriott properties over the course of a calendar year. Since Marriott has essentially gutted their Ambassador program there’s no reason for me to chase any further status with Marriott. There are plenty of years I don’t spend $20,000 total on hotel stays let alone just at Marriott properties. Since Marriott doesn’t offer any incentive for lifetime members to continue staying with the brand I only ended up choosing Marriott for paid stays twice in 2021. I neglected to grab a screenshot of my final numbers for 2021 but Marriott showed something like 90+ elite nights due to various promotions and elite status credit from Marriott credit cards that I hold.
I canceled two Marriott credit cards in 2021 and don’t see any plans to increase my activity with the brand, especially after they made the announcement that they are eliminating award charts. Alas, even my favorite Marriott property of all time (the Hotel Danieli in Venice) will no longer be a Marriott.
Hilton Diamond Status
Hilton has quietly become more of a backup hotel chain for me than Marriott. They have a number of newly built limited and select service hotels in some markets I stay frequently. In some cases, they may not be better than Marriott but they’re not worse. I value Hilton Honors points similarly to Marriott Bonvoy points and just find their treatment of elite members to consistently be just a bit better than Marriott.
I’ve essentially finished up the qualification for lifetime Diamond status. There are no benefits for continuing to stay at Hilton once you’ve achieved lifetime Diamond status. However, the newest casino to open in Las Vegas, Resorts World, is essentially three Hilton properties in one. I really enjoy staying there and plan to write up a more detailed review soon. That was most of my Hilton spending in 2021.
The Hilton website shows me with a stupid number of nights, nowhere near how many I stayed. I did get the benefit of some stays for employees that I paid for getting credited to my account, but I’m still honestly not sure how many paid nights I had in 2021.
Looking At 2022
Flight schedules will likely dictate my elite status decisions in 2022. Nonstop flights still make the most sense, especially given the sheer volume of delays and cancellations. Adding unnecessary stops only adds to the chance of getting stuck somewhere. There’s no elite status benefit worth getting stuck in an airport. Barring something drastic it shouldn’t be difficult for me to re-qualify for United 1K status. With credit card spending it shouldn’t be hard to hold onto Delta Platinum status, and Diamond is still possible (especially if the airlines run any promotions to spur business travel).
My hotel status won’t change in 2022 though my spending is likely to continue shifting. I anticipate that I’ll continue to enjoy staying at Resorts World while I’m in Vegas. In the past I’ve patronized various MGM properties due to their partnership with Hyatt. The luxury of lifetime status is that I don’t feel the pull to make an irrational decision to stay at hotels I don’t prefer just to earn elite status.
The biggest change I expect to see in regards to hotel spending in 2022 is that I’ll have significantly fewer elite nights due to the fact that I won’t book all my stays directly with hotel chains. As we’ve discussed on my podcast a handful of times, I’m enjoying earning 10 points per dollar on hotel stays booked through Capital One Travel and paid with the Venture X card. Generally speaking, you give up elite benefits when you book through a travel portal. When I book stays at limited service properties there just aren’t that many elite benefits on offer. Everyone usually gets free breakfast, there really aren’t upgrades. So, the benefits I’m giving up are free wifi (in some cases) and late checkout, something I don’t generally need.
I find myself doing something that, for years, I swore I would never do. Booking through Capital One has been easy so far and has saved me a few hundred dollars in the process. I’m sure there will be an issue with a 3rd party booking at some point. The amount of friction with the resolution process will likely dictate whether I continue booking through Capital One. Until then, even this old dog can learn a few new tricks.
What’s your 2022 travel plan look like? Which airlines and hotels are you focusing on for elite status?
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